A Cairo court has sentenced three Al Jazeera journalists to three years in jail after finding them guilty of “aiding a terrorist organisation”.
Egyptian Baher Mohamed, Canadian Mohamed Fahmy and Australian Peter Greste were all handed three-year jail sentences when the court delivered the verdict on Saturday, sparking worldwide outrage.
Mohamed was sentenced to an additional six months for possession of a spent bullet casing.
The journalists had been initially found guilty in June 2014 of aiding a “terrorist organisation”, a reference to the Muslim Brotherhood, which was outlawed in Egypt after the army overthrew President Mohamed Morsi in 2013.
A spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Prince Zeid bin Raad, said: “We are very disturbed by these three sentences and the extra pressure it creates on journalists in Egypt who are just trying to do their jobs.”
The European Union said the verdict represented “a setback for freedom of expression in Egypt”.
Judge Hassan Farid, in his ruling on Saturday, said he sentenced the men to prison at least partly because they had not registered with the country’s journalist “syndicate”.
He also said the men brought in equipment without security officials’ approval, had broadcast “false news” on Al Jazeera and used a hotel as a broadcasting point without permission.
The verdict was immediately condemned by Al Jazeera Media Network’s Acting Director General Dr Mostefa Souag, who said: “Today’s verdict defies logic and common sense. Our colleagues Baher Mohamed and Mohamed Fahmy will now have to return to prison, and Peter Greste is sentenced in absentia.
“The whole case has been heavily politicised and has not been conducted in a free and fair manner.”
Dr Souag continued, “There is no evidence proving that our colleagues in any way fabricated news or aided and abetted terrorist organisations, and at no point during the long drawn out retrial did any of the unfounded allegations stand up to scrutiny.
“A report issued by a technical committee assigned by the court in Egypt contradicted the accusations made by the public prosecutor and stated in its report that the seized videos were not fabricated.
— Peter Greste (@PeterGreste) August 29, 2015
“Baher, Peter and Mohamed have been sentenced despite the fact that not a shred of evidence was found to support the extraordinary and false charges against them.
“Today’s verdict is yet another deliberate attack on press freedom. It is a dark day for the Egyptian judiciary; rather than defend liberties and a free and fair media, they have compromised their independence for political reasons.”
Speaking from Sydney, Greste labelled the verdict “outrageous”.
“We did nothing wrong. The court presented no evidence. For us to be convicted as terrorists is outrageous. It can only be a political verdict. This is unethical,” Greste said.
Al Jazeera’s next step is to file an appeal before the Court of Cassation. Such an appeal should be filed within 60 days.
In January, an appeals court ordered a retrial, saying the initial verdict lacked evidence against the three journalists working for the Doha-based network’s English channel.
|Al Jazeera English’s Acting Managing Director Giles Trendle condemns Egypt’s sentencings.|
The journalists and Al Jazeera have vigorously denied the accusations during the trial.
Ten previous sessions in the court had all been adjourned.
Greste has already been deported to his native Australia under a law allowing the transfer of foreigners on trial to their home countries, but he was retried in absentia.
Fahmy and Mohamed were on bail ahead of the verdict after spending more than 400 days in detention.
The Cairo court said on Saturday that the previous time spent in prison will be accounted for as time served.
Fahmy renounced his Egyptian nationality hoping he too would be deported.
Canadian Minister of State Lynne Yelich issued a statement after Saturday’s verdict calling on Egyptian authorities to release Fahmy.
“Canada is disappointed with Mohamed Fahmy’s conviction today. This decision severely undermines confidence in the rule of law in Egypt,” Yelich said.
“The government of Canada continues to call on the Egyptian government to use all tools at its disposal to resolve Mr Fahmy’s case and allow his immediate return to Canada.”
The three men have received support from governments, media organisations and rights groups from around the world.